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GARE Member Jurisdictions Show How Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Part One

By Fronsy Thurman posted 15 days ago

  

The GARE approach is an organizational change model for achieving racial equity change in government. To meet the larger aspiration of a just, multiracial democracy, racial equity practitioners in government must blaze a trail to operationalize racial equity so that practices and procedures, proactively consider racialized impacts. There are several GARE resources available to support the operationalizing of racial equity. Today, we highlight the power and potential of a Racial Equity Core Team.  

A Racial Equity Core Team is the primary leadership team responsible for designing, coordinating, and organizing racial equity plans and activities across a government jurisdiction or institution committed to equitable systems change. They are officially authorized to play a leading role in operationalizing the jurisdiction’s commitment to equity. The Core Team often serves as the engine for change, leading the way and pulling others along – moving a diverse community of people in a common direction and building the movement and momentum to arrive at the destination of equitable outcomes.

This two-part series profiles GARE jurisdictions and how they are applying the concept of racial equity core teams in their efforts towards building broader and deeper commitment to racial equity across the jurisdiction. Read on to meet the teams and learn more about their experiences.

City of Boulder: The Heart Work of Hard Work

In the often-challenging work of forging a path towards racial equity, the City of Boulder’s Equity Officer, Aimee Kane, finds promise in building trust and shared understanding through ongoing learning and inclusive processes.

Describe your jurisdiction in 5 words.

Beautiful. Youthful. Growing. Innovative. Imperfect.

Describe what starting racial equity work was like in your jurisdiction? What was your previous role? How long did it take to establish an equity office or to have equity be an official part of your role or an explicit part of the jurisdiction's focus? Describe a turning or tipping point. 

2018 was a turning point. The city’s first Equity Officer left the job after only seven months, and it was clear the organization hadn’t considered what the role would entail and left that officer without the supports necessary to be successful. Having worked at the city for several years and being a project manager, I asked the Deputy City Manager if I could lead the city’s racial equity work. At the same time, the City of Boulder entered a partnership with GARE and shifted its equity efforts from administering surveys and assessments to becoming more strategic, operationalized, and focused on integrating equity into organizational culture.

We initially thought the equity work would be a six-month project, but quickly realized that an organizational culture change was necessary. My position was changed to Equity Manager, and then it took a couple of years for our HR department to recognize the level of responsibility required by this position and to change the role to Equity Officer. The Office of Equity (now Office of Equity and Belonging) was created with a mighty team of two, an Equity Officer and an Equity Policy Advisor.

Once our organization reached a tipping point of 30% or 420 of our employees going through our mandatory Advancing Racial Equity: Role of Government training, the work really started taking off. The opportunity to have an educational training for all city employees led to conversations that shifted the way people saw the legacy of institutional and systemic racism. It opened doors for more diverse dialogue in work meetings and planning projects and ensured that our efforts as a city would lift communities that had been excluded and disenfranchised for so long.

How did being a part of the GARE network impact and influence this process? What specific support from GARE assisted your efforts?

Participation in GARE is critical to the City of Boulder’s racial equity work. GARE support resulted in:

  • Mandatory staff training in Advancing Racial Equity: The Role of Government.
  • The creation and adoption of the city’s first Racial Equity Plan.
  • The creation of a Racial Equity Instrument, based on GARE’s Racial Equity Toolkit.
  • Technical alignment with other jurisdictions’ Racial Equity Index Maps.
  • Fostering and reinforcing a culture and practice of learning and collaboration with state, regional, national, and international racial equity partners.
  • Creating spaces for equity practitioners to come together and support each other through challenging and emotional times.

Tell us about how your racial equity core team was formed? Which approach did your jurisdiction take? Why did you choose that? What are some of the benefits and obstacles you’ve experienced in this model?

The City of Boulder’s Racial Equity Core Team was also founded in 2018. After launching our partnership with GARE, the city issued an open call for team members. Sixty city staff from almost all departments, at various levels of leadership. answered the call to participate - our colleagues were ready to learn!

The ask was a six-month commitment of 10 hours per month. This was a HUGE undertaking and scheduling challenge. There was also the natural discomfort in some when challenged to embark on a journey of introspection and understanding racism on a different level. As a predominantly white organization, we intentionally created spaces for colleagues who feel the impact of racism on their daily lives. We also wanted to continue creating brave spaces where people could wrestle with white privilege and other forms of oppression. White Fragility is real! We understood that resistance within this work is inevitable and saw it as an opportunity to create connections rather than shaming or blaming.

The benefit of the model, however, was that so many different colleagues were able to lean into the work and think about institutional and system changes that would benefit all staff and eventually, the community. Having the support of so many organizational and community leaders was critical to carving out the time and space to enter this journey.

Tell us about the structure of your racial equity core team and where it is situated within the jurisdictional leadership?

Originally, the City of Boulder’s Racial Equity Core Team was led by the city’s volunteer program and project manager. By 2023, the work had evolved to form an official Office of Equity and Belonging within the City Manager’s office. We have also strengthened our “train the trainer” model by establishing the Equity Ambassador Program of city employees who take on an additional role of facilitator for our three core equity trainings. In these monthly trainings, city employees facilitate important dialogue for new and established staff to ensure there is a foundational understanding of the importance of addressing equity across the institution and in our community.

With the adoption of the city’s racial equity plan and the formation of the Office of Equity and Belonging, each department is required to form its own Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) team to lead their department’s equity work in line with the citywide racial equity plan. Part of that work is an equity assessment that in turn leads departments to create their own racial equity plans, specific to the services each provides. By establishing internal structures such as the JEDI teams, and other “operationalize” processes, the goal is that equity is embedded and practiced in the day-to-day decisions and actions taken by ALL city staff.

How does the racial equity core team interact with external community partners and organizations?

To co-design broader, community-wide engagement on the Racial Equity Plan, the city initiated a Racial Equity Engagement Working Group to gather community feedback on the plan. The Equity Policy Advisor also supports the city’s Community Connectors Model which seeks to elevate the experiences and voices of excluded communities. Community Connectors empower and influence the City of Boulder to make better decisions by partnering to co-design culturally proficient community engagement that strengthens a thriving community and a responsibly governed city.

What advice do you have for others who may be doing or leading racial equity work without an official title, designation, or racial equity core team?

Start somewhere. Identify influential allies within the organization and leverage early adopters. In some ways, our more bottom-up approach led to broader success; we have greater staff participation, commitment, and progress because staff from all levels of the organization were invited to participate and lead. Finding and building a small community of colleagues who can be your “sounding board” when things feel too overwhelming is very important. We believe, as a great speaker at a GARE conference once said, “Equity moves at the speed of relationships”. Equity work is not, and should not be, done alone. Placing the responsibility upon one person or a position without the proper support sets unrealistic expectations of what equity work is about. It is a mindset shift, a cultural shift, and an institutional shift necessary to uproot centuries of harmful and exclusionary practices that were designed by people within institutions from the very beginning. Equity requires us all to be committed to doing the uncomfortable hard work because it is also about doing the HEART work.

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Advancing racial equity work in government is the work of teams working collaboratively and strategically, not individual practitioners, units, or agencies. In our next installment, you will hear from Santa Clara County and how they went from modeling racial equity practices and procedures in one department to building countywide racial equity infrastructure. 

Want to learn more about Racial Equity Core Teams? Check out this resource. Created in 2018, it also features story spotlights on the New York City Department of Public Health and Hygiene, the City of St. Paul, Minnesota, King County, Washington, and the City of Asheville, North Carolina.

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